Nineteenth-Century Women Writers of the English-Speaking World
Edited by Rhoda B. Nathan Prepared under the auspices of Hofstra University Contributions in Women's Studies, Number 69 Greenwood Press New York Westport, Connecticut London 8 Jane Eyre and Poverty
Barbara T. Gates Charlotte Brontë's critics are no longer intimidated by her disclaimer, "I cannot write books handling the topics of the day; it is no use trying." 1 Although Brontë is rightly viewed primarily as a novelist of character rather than as a social novelist, the topics of her day are certainly not absent from the pages of her novels, even in relatively apolitical works like Jane Eyre. Their presence has, in fact, been noted in a number of recent studies 2 and has led to such reassessments as Terry Eagleton's Marxist reading, which shows us Jane Eyre as a nineteenthcentury "outcast bourgeoise" achieving "independence vis-à-vis the upper class" while humanizing Rochester in the bargain. 3 One can hardly disagree that part of Jane's individual struggle is to find her niche in the middle class by this m eans. I would further suggest, however, that Jane must also come to understand her position vis-à-vis Victorian poverty, and that concern with poverty, as with the other social questions that arise in this novel, becomes an important index to character for Brontë. Only slowly and painfully does Jane acquire both experience of the fine line that divides her genteel poverty from the more abject sort, and knowledge of just what factors stand between the Victorian poor and starvation: the Poor Laws, crime, and various forms of private charity. 4 As Jane Eyre progresses through its three volumes, a seemingly independent Jane is forced to realize the inevitability of interdependence, most significantly by arriving at a state of utter poverty in Morton and on the moors. It is only after this chastening experience and the subsequent months of running her own charity school that Jane finally earns union with the even more severely chastened Rochester. Thus development of character unifies this novel, as it does all of Charlotte Brontë's books, but attention to poverty sheds light on both character and morality in Jane Eyre. This can be seen from the outset, where Jane is reminded of her poverty first -79 by John Reed and then by the servants of the Reed household. In chapter 1, John humiliates Jane, telling her, "You have no money: your father left you none; you ought to beg, and not live here with gentlemen's children like us," 5 while in the next chapter, Miss Abbot scolds that Jane is "less than a servant" for she does "nothing for her keep" (p. 9) and Bessie warns that if the Reeds were to reject Jane, she would have no recourse other than the poorhouse. Later we find that such reproofs are not new to Jane but have been part of her life since her "first recollections of existence" (p. 10). They also represent typically Victorian attitudes toward poverty. For John, as for many Victorians, money implies gentility. Increased emphasis on wealth toward mid-century had actually caused increased scorn toward the poor, an attitude reflected in mid-century novels. Walter Houghton reminds us that Tom Brown at Oxford found poverty "a disgrace to a Briton, and that, until you know a man thoroughly, you must imagine him to be the owner of unlimited ready money," 6 and John Reed gives us a younger and crueler version of the same notion. Miss Abbot's rather different rebuke--to work, not to beg--is of course grounded in the Victorian work ethic, the same ethic that helped in the drafting of the unpopular 1834 New Poor Laws, 7 which Bessie indirectly refers to. Able-bodied people ought, even as children, to be equal to earning their own keep. If not, the workhouse was the fitting establishment for them. Probably through Bessie, her only friend, Jane develops an early horror of the workhouse and through Miss Abbot, a tendency to relegate all non-workers to the status of paupers. At this stage of her life Jane herself parrots the attitudes toward poverty found at Gateshead. In talking t o Mr. Lloyd about her prospects, she admits that she fears poverty as something "connected with ragged clothes, scanty food, fireless grates, rude manners, and debasing vices" (p. 20) and hesitates to flee Gateshead for such degradations, even if her flight might be to other relations. Ironically, it is just after this declaration that Jane learns of the circumstances of her own father's death: a case of typhus caught while serving as a curate ministering to the poor. Transmitted to Jane's mother, this typhus is what has left Jane an orphan; but the implications of such a spread of disease, and the interrelationship of poor and non-poor that it signifies, are still lost to Jane. As she has
just said to Lloyd, she is not "heroic enough to purchase liberty at the price of caste" (p. 20). Thus Jane remains in the Reeds's power and is sent off to Mr. Brocklehurst to be kept humble and made useful, according to Mrs. Reed's wishes. At Lowood, for the first time subject to institutionalized, private charity rather than to toleration by rich relatives, Jane puzzles over the tablet above the door. She cannot put together the word "institution" in Lowood Institution, and the verse "let your light so shine" from Matthew 16 which follows it on the inscribed tablet. It takes Helen Burns to explain the meaning of "charity-school," and months of hardship and no little humiliation by the meanminded, evangelical Brocklehurst before Jane absorbs her new situation and learns to cope with it. Meanwhile, she must hear Brocklehurst forbid curly headed girls to wear curls in "an evangelical, charitable establishment" (p. 55) and witness at first hand -80a typhus epidemic not unlike the one which destroyed both of her parents. It is nonetheless this shattering epidemic that prompts the eventual "regeneration" of Lowood into something more of a model for private charity in Victorian times, just as it is this regenerated Lowood that gains Jane's first approval of a benevolent institution. Her description of the new school indicates a place where the inscription from Matthew might be more fitting and gives us the very type of a mid-Victorian, associated charity: Several wealthy and benevolent individuals in the county subscribed largely for the erection of a more convenient building in a better situation; new regulations were made; improvements in diet and clothing introduced; the funds of the school were entrusted to the management of a committee. Mr. Brocklehurst, who, from his wealth and family connections, could not be overlooked, still retained the post of treasurer; but he was aided in the discharge of his duties by gentlemen of rather more enlarged and sympathizing minds. (p. 72) Associated charity had become prevalent in Brontë's day and was distinguished from many earlier philanthropic efforts by the active involvement of larger numbers of patrons. 8 Thus at Lowood Brocklehurst eventually found even his office of inspector "shared by those who knew how to combine reason with strictness, comfort with economy, compassion with uprightness" (p. 72). Far from suffering under the aegis of such a foundation, Jane grows there, for six years as a pupil, then for two more as a teacher. In this situation she can accept her condition of genteel poverty, hampered neither by the cruelty and condescension of the Reeds nor by the penuriousness and malice of Brocklehurst. Having attained the "industrious, working, respectable poverty" that she had once described to Mr. Lloyd, Jane is seen by Bessie as quite "genteel enough" a young lady (p. 80) before she leaves for Thornfield. At Thornfield, Jane continually lives up to this image. In volume two, nearly all of which encompasses the Thornfield story, she is little troubled by her earlier fears of destitution. Rochester may tease her about having literally survived such a place as Lowood and by labelling her care for Adele as a "c haritable purpose" and as "benevolent acts" (p. 114), but he never really makes sport of her onetime poverty. Thus Jane can more readily accept her still humble role of governess, though it galls her when she compares herself with Blanche Ingram, and ultimately, it prompts her well-known outburst to Rochester: "Do you think, because I am poor, obscure, plain and little, I am soulless and heartless?" (p. 222 ). Yet governessing really has given Jane a sense of identity and selfrespect that enables her to face the dying Mrs. Reed with compassion and with considerable character. When Mrs. Reed levels the old Gateshead insults at Jane, even to the point of telling her t hat she "would as soon have been charged with a pauper brat out of a workhouse" (p. 204 ) as with a beggar like Jane, Jane listens as patiently to t his as to Mrs. Reed's concern over her own comparatively mild fall from wealth. In terms of Jane's apprehension over poverty, then, the Thorn-81field section of Jane Eyre functions as a bridge between the other two volumes of the novel. Until t he end of this volume, Jane does not have to face the kinds of humiliation which beset her in childhood, or when she does face them, as in seeing Mrs. Reed, they are powerless to hurt her deeply simply because they do not apply to her current state. The morning after Rochester's proposal, Jane's security with respect to future poverty reaches its zenith. Carried away with joy and the prospect of her new status, she runs down the walk and gives all the money in her purse to a
beggarwoman and her son, "pale, ragged objects both" (p. 226 ). Her action is of course premature, but it tells us a great deal about Jane. Freed from financial worry herself, she is not indifferent to the needs of strangers as she was not to those of Mrs. Reed. But at this stage when a sense of security envelops Jane, it also tends to reinforce her feelings of independence and make her morally priggish. We can see this particularly well in her conversations with Rochester, whom she sees as her master by rank but her moral inferior. When, for example, prior to his proposal he asks her whether a "wandering and sinful, but now restseeking and repentant man" may hope for attachment to a gentle woman like herself, she replies: a wanderer's repose or a sinner's reformation should never depend on a fellow-creature. Men and women die, philosophers falter in wisdom, and Christians in goodness: if any one you know has suffered and erred, let him look to higher than his equals for strength to amend, and solace to heal. (p. 192 ) Taken aback by this rather uncharitable advice, Rochester tries to query Jane about the instruments of God's workings--other human beings--but Jane has no further reply. Having newly found her own independence from the Reeds and from charitable institutions of whatever sort, Jane is not prepared to admit her own need for aid from others. Nor, certainly, is she willing to be "kept" by Rochester, who now inundates her with gifts. "The more he bought me," Jane tells us, "the more my cheek burned with a sense of annoyance and degradation" (p. 236 ). All this buying betokens possessiveness, and to be owned by a prospective husband turns out nearly as humiliating as to be treated as a charity case. Thus Jane aches for a literal "independency" and resolves to write to Uncle Eyre in Madeira. Refusing to play Danae to Rochester's Zeus, she insists that his regard, not showers of gold, are what she wants. Jane is no doubt right to reject this side of Rochester but probably wrong not to see that she is applying middleclass decorum and false pride in her genteel poverty to his accustomed aristocratic behavior. Rochester need not purchase Jane's love, for she has already given it to him; nevertheless, like all persons in Brontë's world, Jane cannot live wholly on her own. Brontë will therefore subject her to the most severe test of her self-sufficiency, turning her once again from "an ardent, expectant woman" to "a cold, solitary girl" (p. 260 ) at the -82end of the second volume, after the announcement of Rochester's intended bigamy. Provided with only a small parcel, which she subsequently loses, and the few shillings left after her generosity to the beggars at Thornfield, Jane sets out for a transforming encounter with real destitution. Since people are not to be appealed to for charity, Jane turns first toward nature to support her in her need. Throughout the Thornfield section of the novel, Jane has shown a simplified Wordsworthian attitude toward nature; "Nature must be gladsome when I was so happy" (p. 226), she says just before she offers her shillings to the beggars. In volume three, however, she finds that poverty, not happiness, is the natural state of affairs. The Christian God resides not in nature but in humankind, just as Rochester had suggested. Thus Jane's real trials begin with her gnawing hunger on the moors. 9 Unequal to a life lived wholly in nature and now acknowledging herself to have "a human being's wants" (p. 286), Jane follows the sound of a church bell into the town of Morton and there stands "in the position of one without a resource: without a friend, without a coin" (p. 287). In quite different circumstances from those of volume one, she is no longer a child with a child's appeal to sympathy. Instead she is faced with a series of unpleasant and degrading encounters as she searches for a morsel of food to sustain her and comes closer and closer to beggarhood. With a Morton shopkeeper she thinks first of barter, of offering her gloves or handkerchief for a roll. Finding herself too embarrassed to go through with her intentions, however, she winds up asking what sort of employment is available in Morton, a hope that carries her next to the door of a householder, then on to the parsonage. Lack of success at each stage in her search for work eventually leads her back to the shopkeeper and to her first appalling apprehension of how a genteel-looking young woman, desperate for food, must appear to an outsider. The shopkeeper will not take Jane's gloves because she suspects Jane, probably of trafficking in stolen goods. It is the humiliation of this realization that finally forces Jane into active begging, first for bread from a farmer and then for pigfood, the leftovers from a child's breakfast. All of these encounters painfully humble Jane before she arrives at Moor House and call forth her old ideas of poverty, formed at Gateshead. She is now truly the beggar that John said she should have been all along; she sees that she is less than a servant after all; and she is still as determined as ever to avoid the workhouse at all costs.
Confronted, she thinks, with the imminent prospect of death, she observes that it is "far better that crows and ravens . . . should pick my flesh from my bones, than that they should be prisoned in a workhouse coffin and moulder in a pauper's grave" (p. 290). Jane does not, however, blame those who reject her, since she still maintains her stiffnecked notions of independence. "What claims had I to importune her?" (p. 287), she remarks when rebuffed by the shopkeeper. Only when she arrives at Moor House at the complete end of her resources and is rejected by Hannah, not only as a vagrant but also as a poser in collusion with housebreakers, does she find herself altogether at the mercy of others and willing to accept charity without a murmur. If the proposal -83of Rochester was the zenith of her prospects, this, then, is their nadir. In her words, "a pang of exquisite suffering-a throe of true despair--rent and heaved my heart. Worn out, indeed, I was; not another step could I stir. I sank on the wet door-step: I groaned" (p. 295). Brontë lets Jane sink into this mire of despair--which is surely a nineteenthcentury Slough of Despond--only to chasten her and let her rise once again, having shed a part of her former pride along with her wet clothes. Jane has learned poverty of spirit at this stage of her progress. Yet Richard Benvenuto 10 is quite right not to find an entirely new Jane resurrected after this baptism through poverty, for Brontë is too good a psychologist ever wholly to take away Jane's spirit, or starchiness, or love of lecturing. Jane soon begins once more to "know herself," as she tells the reader just after she crosses the threshold of Marsh End. She can still think of poverty as degradation, associated with the dirt and disorder that pervaded her clothes when she came to the middle-class home of the Rivers. Nonetheless, as soon as she can she puts on her "own things, now clean and dry," and goes down to the kitchen to read servant Hannah two lessons that she herself has learned: first, that the poor may indeed have a right to importune others, and second that poverty is no fair gauge of immorality, let alone of criminal intent. When Hannah finds that Jane is resentful of her attitude toward Jane's begging and asks that Jane not think too hardly of her, she gets a very fiery retort: But I do think hardly of you . . . and I'll tell you why--not so much because you refused to give me shelter, or regarded me as an impostor, as because you just now made it a species of reproach that I had no 'brass' and no house. Some of the best people that ever lived have been as destitute as I am; and if you are a Christian, you ought not to consider poverty a crime. (p. 301) Here for the first time Jane comes closer to seeing that all people are caught up in one another's poverty, as in one another's lives, and that she herself can be as much in need of their relief as they of hers. This is a hard realization for Jane but one she must work through before eventual reunion with Rochester. The Rivers, however, do help Jane to learn this and also to reestablish a sense of her own worth. With them Jane discovers the difference between compassion and charity, a distinction she makes clear in a conversation with St. John. She owes his sisters, she tells him, for "their spontaneous, genuine, genial compassion," as large a debt as she owes him for his "evangelical charity" (p. 308). For Jane, compassion confers a sense of independence, whereas charity implies debt. Such a distinction is not lost on St. John, who feels t he sting of Jane's comparison and is goaded into finding some means of employment to help her attain independence. Jane's new school for the poor, suggested by St. John and supported by the Olivers, thus becomes the testing ground for her new sense of self and her different attitude toward poverty. Jane's situation will be humble but not ignoble, -84 and rather more in keeping with her desire for autonomy than was governessing. It is, however, a drop on the social scale and this fact still shames Jane: I felt desolate to a degree. I felt--yes, idiot that I am --I felt degraded. I doubted I had taken a step which sank instead of raising me in the scale of social existence. I was weakly dismayed at t he ignorance, the poverty, the coarseness of all I heard and saw round me. But let me not hate and despise myself too much for these feelings: I know them to be wrong--that is a great step gained; I shall strive to overcome them. (p. 360)
Here we see that Jane has not been transformed overnight from pride and prejudice to compassion toward ignorance and poverty, but that she has certainly been made aware of her own narrowness of viewpoint. Slowly she will earn the regard of her poor scholars as she learns to prize them more highly, so that ultimately she recalls this part of her life with a heart swelling with thankfulness rather than sinking in dejection (p. 322). Yet Jane's tempering of ambition and growing increase in compassion are precisely what create difficulties when St. John asks her to step over into the life of a missionary. At this point she is no longer threatened by poverty, for the Eyre legacy has become hers and, through gratitude, the Rivers' as well, since fair-minded Jane immediately wishes to share her wealth with her kin. But she is not prepared to surrender herself and become a nineteenth-century Mother Teresa to the poor of India. The village school has allowed her to follow in the footsteps of Miss Temple and to bring light into the lives of young, British peasant girls, if not orphans. This mission pleases her, to be sure, but leaves no taste for the further regenerating of the race that St. John counsels her toward. Instead Jane must make her way back toward Rochester and find another way to use the compassion hard won since Thornfield. This time she is followed by the lessons of poverty, but not by its spectre, and "softens" the account of her "three days of wandering and starvation" (p. 387) in order not further to hurt the already anguished Rochester. Poverty has outlived its usefulness in Brontë's plot but remains strong in the memory and actions of Jane. Having been humbled and made dependent by destitution, as Rochester has been by fire, Jane has learned the folly of her earlier statement that "a wanderer's repose or a sinner's reformation should never depend on a fellowcreature." People can indeed be the "instruments" of one another's salvation, as Rochester had intimated, and Jane is now ready to be Rochester's. Because he has obvious need of her, she can with all honesty say to him, "I love you better now, when I can really be useful to you, than I did in your state of proud independence, when you disdained every part but that of the giver and protector" (p. 392). Yet because Jane has learned the final lessons of poverty at the home of the Rivers sisters, Rochester will not feel in her love what he calls a "sacrifice." Jane knows how to give love without requiring dependence and to accept it without tempering her own sense of self-respect. She has become an independent woman not only financially, as she tells Rochester, but in other ways, too, is now her "own mistress" (p. 389). -85With this in mind and with a vivid recollection of Jane's chastening through her trials in M orton, it is interesting to recall Mrs. Rigby's now infamous review of Jane Eyre and to ponder what Rigby could have had in mind when she said: Altogether the autobiography of Jane Eyre is preeminently an anti-Christian composition. There is throughout it a murmuring against the comforts of the rich and against the privations of the poor, which as far as each individual is concerned, is a murmuring against God's a ppointment--there is a proud and perpetual assertion of the rights of man, for which we find no authority either in God's word or in God's providence. 11 Surely Charlotte Brontë's intentions must have been quite opposite to what Mrs. Rigby imagined. Jane is learning about Christian charity with regard to poor relief even as she scolds Hannah for insensitivity on this subject. In fact, what Jane learns from poverty will take her through a pattern of Victorian conversion, not rebellion, a pattern that both she and Rochester need to experience before their final reunion at Ferndean. Jane indeed begins by asserting her right to autonomy, but like so many other personae in Victorian literature, she must die to that old need and eventually find a new self, in this case one still self-reliant but not divorced from a need for others. Abject poverty is Brontë's means of humbling her protagonist sufficiently for Jane to be required to find that new self, in effect reborn from the marshes near Morton. As a consequence, the Jane we find at the end of the novel is an individual who has learned of the interconnectedness of human life and of the need for dependence and compassion as well as for independence. Her turning has encompassed what Jerome Buckley finds at the center of the Victorian conversion: a new birth involving "the crucial insight into a reality, human or divine, beyond the old self-absorbed life." 12 She was moved from poverty to humility to charity, and the story she tells is both of a woman's liberation and of the social and self-imposed limits to liberty which all the Brontë sisters knew. The novel Jane Eyre may not, then, be preoccupied with the topics of its day, but it is occupied with them. Since they intimately concern the novel's main characters, topics like poverty are used to relate private and social aspects of the novel. Charlotte Brontë is neither a Dickens nor a Mrs. Gaskell, but she likes to improve her already good characters for the betterment of others. After her three days on the moors and in Morton, Jane touches her schoolgirls, Rochester, and even Hannah in a way that she has never touched anyone before. This is not large-scale social reform, to be sure; yet it does imply that people can achieve increased awareness of both their own blindness and
the pain and ignorance of others, and that they can act in private but significant ways to relieve that blindness and pain. In Brontë, social regeneration comes through individual regeneration. Since all human beings are related--a lesson which Jane Eyre learns through poverty and Charlotte Brontë stresses through coincidence--one person's gain in charity offers hope for others. -86 NOTES 1. Letter to George Smith , October 30, 1852, The Brontës: Their Lives, Friendships and Correspondence, 4 vols., ed. T. J. Wise and J. A. Symington ( Oxford: Shakespeare Head Press, 1932), IV, pp. 13-14. 2. For a summary of such studies see Herbert J. Rosengarten, "The Brontës," in Victorian Fiction: A Second Guide to Research, ed. George H. Ford ( New York: Modern Language Association of America, 1978), pp. 185-86. 3. Terry Eagleton, Myths of Power ( London: Macmillan, 1975), p. 32. 4. See Geoffrey Best, Mid-Victorian Britain, 1851-1875 ( New York: Schocken, 1972), pp. 120-33. 5. All quotations from Jane Eyre are from the third edition ( New York: Mershon, 1848); here p. 10. Subsequent references will be included in the text. 6. Walter E. Houghton, The Victorian Frame of Mind, 1830-1870 ( New Haven: Yale University Press, 1957), pp. 1 84)-85. 7. The Reverend Patrick Brontë was violently opposed to the New Poor Laws and in 1837 made an eloquent and fiery speech against them. Reported in The Times, February 27, 1837 , the speech could hardly have escaped the notice of Brontë's own daughter. 8. See Best, Mid-Victorian Britain, pp. 133-35. 9. I am wholly in agreement with Jennifer Gribble, who believes that "nat ure is for Jane no mere escape from the pressures of social living but a means by which she comes to understand more surely and deeply what her social experience teaches" ( Jane Eyre's Imagination, NCF 23 [ 1968], 293). 10. Richard Benvenuto, "The Child of Nature, the Child of Grace, and the Unresolved Conflict of Jane Eyre," ELH 39 ( 1972), 620-38. Benvenuto, who discusses Jane's attitude toward poverty in the introduction to his essay, does not believe that Jane grows through understanding destitution. 11. Elizabeth Rigby, "Vanity Fair and Jane Eyre," Quarterly Review ( December, 1848), reprinted in The Brontës: The Critical Heritage, ed. Miriam Allott ( London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1974), p. 109. 12. Jerome Hamilton Buckley, The Victorian Temper: A Study in Literary Culture ( New York: Vintage, 1951), p. 105.
-879 Once More to the Attic: Bertha Rochester and the Pattern of Redemption in Jane Eyre
Gail B. Griffin In the memories of women who love books, the first encounter with Jane Eyre is lodged in a special place. We forget now how many times we have read it; after a while we internalize it; it becomes our own story, our personal myth. In our minds we relive it over and over again: leaving Gateshead in t he cold, predawn darkness; glowing in the light of public exoneration at Lowood and finding peace and dignity in that unlikely place; wandering t he great corridors of Thornfield--but always stopping at the attic door, waiting to hear that low, joyless laugh and feel the shiver down the spine once more. All Jane Eyre lovers have been strangely drawn to Bertha Mason Rochester, reacting first in delicious terror to the monster who laughed at the keyhole and appeared in bedrooms in the middle of the night; then, more wisely, responding with pity for the hopeless victim, lost to the sun, running back and forth across the attic on all fours; then, finally, as we become more sophisticated readers, we were fascinated by the rich psychological texture of Jane's relationship to her mad double, whose laughter suddenly, unexpectedly echoes through the third story like a nagging reminder to Jane of something almost forgotten and an eerie warning of something to come. Finally, in recent years, the girls once mesmerized by Jane's story, now grown into literary critics, have trouped in turn upon Bertha's attic room. Our inchoate sense of some link, some communion between the two Mrs. Rochesters has been amply substantiated. Adrienne Rich important essay of 1972, "Jane Eyre: The Temptations of a Motherless Woman," discusses Bertha briefly as Jane's double and as a figure of warning, representing the result of
a liberated female imagination in nineteenth-century society. 1 Elaine Showalter 1977 book, A Literature of Their Own, treats Bertha in more detail in the context of women's madness, dealing with her as the incarnation of Jane's repressed sexuality. 2 Both works -89-
confront Rochester's complicity in his wife's insanity, and Rich addresses his hypocrisy in incarcerating his wife for the lustful "'propensities'" 3 which he possesses in acknowledged abundance. In a fine, short article, Karen Mann has placed Jane and Bertha together in the web of male-dominated economic structures. 4 But Bertha did not receive the treatment she deserved until 1979, when Sandra M. Gilbert and Susan Gubar discussed in depth her role as Jane's dark doppelganger in their book on nineteenth-century female writers whose title, The Madwoman in the Attic , pays tribute to Bertha. With sensitivity and careful attention to detail the authors explore Bertha's diverse roles in Jane's saga: her striking similarity to Jane as well as her striking opposition; her monitory role as warning and example; her enactment of Jane's subconscious desires and repressed anger; her relationship to the child Jane, incarcerated in the Red Room and driven to something like madness. 5 Gilbert and Gubar demonstrate that Jane's "confrontation, not with Rochester but with Rochester's mad wife Bertha, is the book's central confrontation." 6 This important truth having been documented, what remains to be said? I think that the puzzle is not yet complete, that Bertha's place in the vast and intricate design of Jane Eyre is not fully traced. Two important points have yet to be made, one concerning Bertha's function in Jane's personal quest, and the other having to do with Bertha's relationship to Rochester, a relationship slighted by these critics in favor of her doubling with Jane. And yet to understand Jane's suffering and redemption requires an understanding of Rochester's, in which Bertha is crucial; and the whole pattern of sexual struggle and liberation in the novel is incomplete without the figure of Bertha at its center, Jane on one side, Rochester on the other. Adrienne Rich prepares our way with her interpretation of the moon in Jane Eyre as a Great Mother goddess, providing the maternal guidance Jane desperately seeks and occasionally finds in other women. This goddess actually speaks to Jane in a dream the night before she leaves Thornfield: "'My daughter, flee temptation!'" to which Jane responds, "'Mother, I will'" (p. 181). 7 Diana and Mary Rivers, Rich tells us, are incarnations of this goddess in her dual aspects, as their names suggest. 8 But the earlier mother-figures are also involved in this lunar network. Maria Temple's first and last names certainly link her with the M other goddess, and even Helen Burns bears the name of a female literary archetype, something of a goddess. These two important role models are related to the symbol of the moon, which begins to appear in Jane's life when she arrives at Lowood. At Gateshead the moon is conspicuously absent: in the terrifying Red Room episode, Jane wishes for the eerie light on the wall to be the moon, but it is not (p. 14); as she leaves Gateshead, "[t]he moon [is] set, and it [is] very dark" (p. 35). Miss Temple literally breaks upon Jane's benighted consciousness like a full moon from behind a cloud, and she is consistently described in lunar terms: as having "a pale and large forehead" (p. 36 ), a "white forehead" (p. 62 ), "whiteness [in] her large front" (p. 40 ), "beaming dark eyes" (p. 62 ) with "a benignant light in their irids" (p. 40 ), "a complexion, -90if pale, clear" (p. 41 ), and "something of serenity in her air" (p. 63 ). Helen Burns, who assures Jane that Miss Temple"'is above the rest'" (p. 44 ), is also a moonchild. Jane often remarks upon the light in her eyes, like Miss Temple's; and on one occasion, when Helen is in trouble with one of the t eachers, the connection grows more explicit: "such spots are there on the disc of the clearest planet; and eyes like M iss Scatcherd's can only see those minute defects, and are blind to the full brightness of the orb" (p. 59 ). Finally Jane is drawn within the lunar circle, one night when she is alone with Helen: "Some heavy clouds, swept from the sky by a rising wind, had left the moon bare; and her light, streaming in through a window near, shone full both on us and on the approaching figure, which we at once recognized as Miss Temple" (p. 61 ). This sorority of the moon gives Jane the fundamental strength to overcome the ghosts of the past and the demons of the future. To Thornfield she brings a painting of the Evening Star--Venus, another female Goddess--as a woman rising into the night sky, bathed in moonlight (p. 110 ). At Thornfield the moon, consistently referred to as "she," gazes maternally down upon important events: Jane's first meeting with Rochester (p. 97), her return to Thornfield that evening (p. 102 ), his proposal of marriage (p. 225 ), during which, he later tells her, she "'glowed in the moonlight'" (p. 230 ), absorbing something of the
goddess herself. Rochester betrays the spirit of the moon in his fairy-tale version of his marriage to Jane, recited for Adele's benefit: he plans to "'take mademoiselle to the moon'" (p. 234 ), in defiance of natural law, where they will live in isolation. Interestingly enough, Adele objects thoroughly to this proposal, verbalizing what is in Jane's heart. The moon appears at three other critical points at Thornfield, each time preceding the intrusion of Bertha into Jane's life. A bright moon wakes her just before Bertha's attack on her brother, Richard Mason (pp. 180-81); the night of Bertha's entry into Jane's bedchamber is dark, but Jane dreams of wandering through the ruins of Thornfield "'on a moonlight night'" (p. 248 ) and wakes to see Bertha; and finally, on the night before the wedding and Jane's discovery of Bertha's reality and identity, the moon is a constant, active presence, first "blood-red and half overcast" (p. 243 ), then disappearing within the clouds (p. 244 ), then appearing again (p. 244 ), then finally shining "peacefully" (p. 251 ). The changeability of the moon corresponds to Jane's confusion on this night of foreboding: "'I cannot see my prospects clearly tonight'" (p. 245 ), she tells Rochester. The moon on this night is not the serene maternal goddess--or perhaps she is another aspect of that goddess: "Her disk was blood-red and half overcast; she seemed to throw on me one bewildered, dreary glance, and buried herself again instantly in the deep drift of cloud" (p. 243 ). In fact, she strongly resembles Bertha herself as she first appears by Jane's bedside after tearing the veil. Just so does Bertha momentarily emerge from the gloom to glance down at Jane in the candlelight and then disappear into her attic darkness. Bertha is the third moon-figure in the novel, the only one at Thornfield, and considered in this light -91her significance expands. Elaine Showalter observes t hat the "periodicity of Bertha's attacks suggests a connection to the menstrual cycle," 9 a connection strengthened by this association with the moon, particularly a "blood-red" moon. The moon is an ambivalent symbol, traditionally signifying female chastity but also female inconstancy, unchastity, sexual aggressiveness, the temporary insanity associated with menstruation in Charlotte Brontë's age. Bertha is called "the lunatic," a term which, of course, derives from the moon, so it is appropriate that it be her symbol. In fact, then, Bertha is the dark side of the moon whose bright side is Miss Temple; both are aspects of womanhood in Jane Eyre--the serenity and the rage, the dignity and the torment. The female dichotomy so dear to the male literary imagination--the angel and the whore, the fair and dark heroines--is reappropriated, and the symbol of the moon, enclosing this dualism, is thus recast in distinctively female terms. Bertha, then, enters the ranks of the mother-figures Rich sees as guiding Jane's quest. There are two indications, one more direct than the other, that Brontë sees her in this light. The first has to do with Bertha's name. The names of four of the chief characters in the novel are versions of the traditional four elements composing all of creation: Air ( Jane Eyre), water ( St. John Rivers, linked by first name as well as last), fire ( Helen Burns), and earth, contained in the word "Bertha." This quartet of elements was usually divided into pairs of opposites: fire and water, earth and air. The fire and water figures, Helen and St. John, certainly belong together as emblems of a spirituality Jane deeply admires but cannot fully accept. The air and earth figures, Jane and Bertha, are thus doubled once again. This elemental opposition usually denoted the separation of spirit (air) and body (earth), divine and mundane, and this is certainly one aspect of the Jane-Bertha relationship, if Bertha represents Jane's submerged sexuality. But in a novel as full of the power of nature--also defined as a maternal "she "-as this one, "earth" certainly has other connotations: growth, renewal, fertility. Bertha is an Earth Mother figure, highly sexual and capable of the destruction that is inseparable from creation and new birth. For Bertha's name also conspicuously contains the word "birth," more directly suggesting that she is another mother figure for the orphan Jane. Bertha is at once the angry orphan of Jane's past, 10 imprisoned within the "disciplined and subdued character" (p. 73 ) that leaves Lowood, but also one of the maternal spirits creating Jane's future-helping Jane give birth to herself. Jane believes this new self to be on the verge of birth the night before the wedding: "Mrs. Rochester! She did not exist; she would not be born till tomorrow, some time after eight o'clock A.M.; and I would wait to be assured she had come into the world alive before I assigned to her all that property" (p. 242 ). The new self, as she fears, is stillborn, precisely because Mrs. Rochester does exist. That night, in Jane's dream of Gateshead, the maternal moon spirit takes human form and its voice admonishes her to flee temptation. But has not this spirit, in one of its incarnations, already issued this warning? For two nights earlier, the preternaturally strong and murderous Bertha enters Jane's room but -92
makes no move to harm her rival; instead, she tears the bridal veil asunder. As well as an enactment of Jane's subliminal desire, 11 this is surely a maternal warning from one Mrs. Rochester to another, from one who has been sold in marriage to one who has felt that she is about to be bought, like a "slave" (p. 236 ) or a "'jewel'" (p. 238 ). The torn veil signifies broken union but also cleared vision, since the veil is meant to protect the bride from the world and to hide the world from the bride's innocent eyes. Bertha tries to tell Jane what Rochester will not, but what another mother figure, Mrs. Fairfax, has also tried to communicate. Jane is soon on her way to her next fostermothers, the Rivers sisters. It is interesting that Bertha's odd gentleness to Jane is reciprocated. Upon first hearing Bertha's laugh, Jane calls it, among other things, "tragic" (p. 94 ). When Rochester proposes, Jane's concern is whether she can accept "'without fearing that anyone else is suffering the bitter pain I myself felt a while ago'" (p. 231 ): her empathy creates a hypothetical Bertha. She even enacts Bertha's death in her dream before their first confrontation. Finally, in her long discussion with Rochester after the secret is out, Jane's language in referring to Bertha is in marked contrast to his own. Whereas he calls her a hag, a demon, a fiend, Jane calls her "'your wife'" (p. 267 ) and "'that unfortunate lady'" (p. 265 ), granting her both status and dignity. "'[She] cannot help being mad,'" Jane admonishes. It is, of course, this power of empathy, Jane's ability to turn her own suffering into a medium of moral vision, that Rochester lacks. In their final interview, Jane repeatedly sees herself in Bertha's place--as the discarded plaything (p. 274 ), as a madwoman (p. 279). Jane is not Bertha's rival, but her only defender. It is Rochester who perceives them as rivals; where Jane sees similarity and kinship, he sees polar opposition, and this false perception of the two women in his life is at the root of his moral fail ure and his suffering. Bertha shares with Rochester nearly as rich a psychological interrelationship as she shares with Jane. In the first place, there are suggestions of physical similarity between husband and wife: Bertha is of a "stature almost equalling her husband" (p. 258 ); he is described as dark and swarthy, like Bertha, in fact, he calls himself "'blackaviced'" (p. 176 ) and Jane describes Bertha's face as "'blackened'" (p. 249 ). Both are slightly androgynous: Jane remarks upon Bertha's "virile force" (p. 258 ), while in Rochester's gypsy episode he explores a female identity remarkably reminiscent of Bertha: "'a shockingly ugly old creature . . . almost as black as a crock'" (p. 169 ), the footman calls her, and Jane confirms that her face is "all brown and black" (p. 172 ). Blanche announces that "'we have a genuine witch in the house, who is in close alliance with the old gentleman'" (p. 170 ). "'I'm sure she is something not right!'" exclaim the young ladies (p. 171 ). To Jane, who addresses her as "'mother'" (p. 172 ), the gypsy confides that she has "'an acquaintance with . . . Mrs. Poole (p. 174 ). Among other things, this scene is Rochester's enactment of the Bertha within him, a creature he fears intensely, as is clear in his description of the disastrous -93 marriage, in which he is at great pains to draw fine lines between Bertha's "'debauchery'" and his own "'dissipation'" (p. 274 ). "'Any enjoyment that bordered on riot,'" he explains to Jane, "'seemed to approach me to her and her vices, and I eschewed it'" (p. 274 ). He is terrified of becoming like her. It is this i nner Bertha from which he has been running these ten years, during which he has attempted to deny it by locking it in an attic and rationalizing away his marriage. "'Let her identity, her connection with yourself, be buried in oblivion'" (p. 273 ), he has told himself (italics mine). But just like the real Bertha, the interior Bertha keeps breaking out, incendiary and dangerous. During the final interview, as Jane is imagining herself and calling herself a madwoman, Rochester is showing similar symptoms: "His voice was hoarse; his look that of a man who is just a bout to burst an insufferable bond and plunge headlong into wild license. I saw that in another moment, and with one impetus of frenzy more, I should be able to do nothing with him. The present--the passing second of time--was all I had in which to control and restrain him" (p. 266 ). Later, a "wild look raised his brows"(p. 278). And when Jane returns to Thornfield, she is told by the innkeeper that after the fire, Rochester"'grew savage--quite savage. . . . He never was a wild man, but he got dangerous'" (p. 376). The more Rochester tries to deny Bertha, to lock her in the past, the more she comes to represent his past itself. She is often referred to as a ghost, and her third story has "the aspect of a home of the past: a shrine of memory" (p. 92 ). "What crime was this," Jane wonders, "that lived incarnate in this sequestered mansion?" (p. 185 ). Much later, Rochester insists on another semantic distinction: "'Mind, I don't say a crime: . . . my word is error'" (p. 191 ). But the novel bears Jane out: Bertha is the incarnation of his crime, for which he pays dearly. In a Victorian novel the
past is never to be denied, and certainly not in this one; both Jane and Rochester must confront painful pasts, represented for each of them by Bertha. The past becomes the future, then, their inescapable destinies, of which they both speak in terms suggestive of Bertha. Rochester describes his thus: "'I was arranging a point with my destiny. She stood there, by that beech-truck--a hag like one of those who appeared to "Macbeth" on the heath of Forres. "You like Thornfield?" she said. . . . "Like it if you can!"'" (p. 125 ). Certainly, Bertha is the "hag" who renders Thornfield unlikable for him. A few pages later, Jane uses another metaphor from Bertha's world: "My thin crescent-destiny seemed to enlarge" (p. 129 ). She then remembers how Rochester's destiny "had risen up before him" (p. 129 ), and almost immediately she hears Bertha's laugh at the door and discovers the fire. Later, on the confused eve of the wedding, the moon "[shuts] herself wholly within her chamber," again like Bertha, and Jane muses, "I imagined my fortune and passed its meridian, and must now decline" (p. 244 ). For both of them, Bertha is the ghost of an angry past and the unavoidable shape of the future. Ostensibly the impediment between them, she is in fact their strongest link. -94Subconsciously Rochester sees Bertha as his demon, his evil self; consequently, he seeks an angelic self to save him. After incarcerating Bertha, he tells us, "'My fixed desire was to seek and find a good and intelligent woman whom I could love: a contrast to the fury I left at Thornfield'" (p. 273 ). Womankind thus divides in his mind into the two familiar opposed types: demons like Bertha, and the ideal woman for whom he searches, "'the antipodes of the Creole'" (p. 274 ). His own base and better instincts he projects outward upon the world of women, and, failing to find his ideal, he decides that all women are Berthas. He returns to England"'sourly disposed against all men, and especially against all womankind'" (p. 275 ). The story is a familiar one: his own self-division and self-hatred ultimately result in misogyny. Jane, listening quietly, understands this; she hears the tale of rejected mistresses-- "'I tired of her in three months. . . . I was glad t o . . . get decently rid of her'" (p. 274 )-and realizes that she, too, as his mistress, would eventually be discarded as falling short of the ideal. The problem lies not with the mistresses strewn across Europe, but with Rochester himself, with the dipolar archetypes of his own devising. Jane, of course, has stumbled into this psychodrama in the role of Bertha's opposite: "'a very angel,'" he calls her (p. 228 ). From the first she refuses to play: "'I am not an angel . . . and I will not be one until I die: I will be myself. Mr. Rochester, you must neither expect nor exact anything celestial of me'" (p. 228 ). Helen Burns was an angel-almost--but Helen is dead, and while Jane has absorbed wisdom from her, she can never be like her. In fact, one of the most powerful impulses of the book is the triumph of the human, the decidedly un-angelic; the human triumph of Jane Eyre and Edward Rochester, as against the angelic triumph of Helen Burns and St. John Rivers. Rochester's attempt to fit Jane to his mental constructs, then, violates both the book's humanism and Jane's individual humanity. His refusal to allow her this humanity-his insistence that she be an angel, or a "doll," or a member of his "'seraglio'" (p. 236 )--is the real cancer in the initial relationship, the real impediment to matrimony, the one Jane senses well before she is aware of Bertha. As an angel, Jane knows, she is in a perilous position. In the kind of imagination that divides women into opposing types, it is easy to slip from one category to the other: "'Don't turn a downright Eve on my hands!'" Rochester warns (p. 228 ), citing the archetypal evil woman. In addition, the categorizing imagination finds ready scapegoats in the women chosen to represent aspects of itself; it becomes easy to pass the buck. Pleading with Jane t o remain with him, Rochester calls her "'my sympathy--my better self--my good angel'" (p. 277). As Bertha is supposed to have damned him, Jane is now expected to save him, and in refusing for the sake of her own moral salvation, she "turns a downright Eve" on him, becoming, in his mind, his corruptor: "'Then you snatch love and innocence from me? You fling me back on lust for a passion-vice for an occupation?'" (p. 279). Jane immediately refuses responsibility for -95his future moral decay. But in Rochester's psychodrama he is torn between two female forces, representing his good and evil selves, and the good angel is now "flinging" him, helpless, into the arms of lust--that is, the Bertha within. In reality, as I have tried to show, the opposing angel and demon are in sympathy--and in league. They are cooperating for Rochester's salvation. In her first appearance in the story, Bertha brings fire to Rochester's bed and Jane the flood to quench it; both are, Biblically speaking, manifestations of a vengeful God but forces for
redemption and cleansing, forces at once destructive and recreative. The account of Rochester's reaction to the incident suggests this collaboration and its Biblical overtones: "Is there a flood?" he cried. "No, sir," I answered; "but there has been a fire. . . ." ". . . Who is in the room beside you? Have you plotted to drown me? ". . . Somebody has plotted something. . . ." (p. 131 ) It is Bertha's fire which ultimately succeeds where Jane's milder baptism has failed, but to the extent t hat Bertha is Jane's alter-ego and agent, the fire is Jane's as well, especially since she has already dreamed it. Rochester has hoped for a "'final re-transformation from India rubber back to flesh'" (p. 116 ); this metamorphosis comes only when he has acknowledged the humanity of both Jane and Bertha. He realizes his crime in attempting to dupe Jane into a position which would cost her integrity and self-respect; and he realizes Bertha's humanity and her relationship to him to the extent that he risks his life t o save her, the impediment to his happiness, whom more than anything he has wished dead. Blind, Rochester can finally see the maternal moon that has watched over Jane--a significant enlargement of his perception. They both see it in its final appearance in the novel, on the night Jane refuses Rivers and hears Rochester's voice (pp. 369, 393). The illumination is at last mutual. The mutilation Rochester suffers is only in the most superficial sense a castration, as it is so often interpreted. It is indeed the loss of a certain kind of false masculinity, the kind that impedes humanity. Jane and Bertha bring Rochester what is for Charlotte Brontë the saving gift: suffering, enough to change India rubber to flesh, enough to tap the reserves of empathy that can admit him to the human family. In the gypsy episode Jane looks at Rochester in his disguise, which we have already seen to resemble Bertha, and realizes that "her accent, her gesture, and all were familiar to m e as my own face in a glass" (p. 177 ). Later she wakes in the night to see Bertha for the first time, as a reflection in a mirror, 12 dressed in white and wearing the veil, a demonic version of Jane, the secretly mad bride. At two important points in the novel--in the Red Room and on the morning of her wedding--Jane fails to recognize herself in the mirror. But she sees herself in these two others, and they in her. The three of them are deeply involved with each other, a three-way mirror reflecting a shared existence. Bertha is the catalyst in this delicate psychic chemistry. In her the anger, the madness, the sensuality, -96the suffering of Jane and Rochester meet. And fittingly, she is the critical agent in the redemption of both. Having acknowledged her, they can live, and she can die. NOTES 1. Adrienne Rich, "Jane Eyre: The Temptations of a Motherless Woman," Ms. ( October, 1973). Reprinted in Lies, Secrets, and Silence ( New York: Norton, 1979), pp. 89-106. For other treatments of Bertha's warning role, see Richard Chase, "The Brontës, or Myth Domesticated," in Forms of Modern Fiction, ed. William V. O'Connor ( Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1948), pp. 102-13; and Peter Grudin, "Jane and the Other Mrs. Rochester: Excess and Restraint in Jane Eyre," Novel , 10 ( 1977), 145-57.
Elaine Showalter, A Literature of Their Own ( Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1977), pp. 118-22.
Charlotte Brontë, Jane Eyre ( New York: Mershon, 1848), p. 293. Subsequent references come from this edition and will appear parenthetically.
Karen B. Mann, "Bertha Mason and Jane Eyre: The True Mrs. Rochester," Ball State University Forum 19 , no. 1 ( 1978), 31-34.
Sandra M. Gilbert and Susan Gubar, The Madwoman in the Attic: The Woman Writer and the Nineteenth Century Literary Imagination ( New Haven: Yale University Press, 1979), pp. 336-71.
Gilbert and Gubar, Madwoman in the Attic, p. 339.
Rich, "Jane Eyre," pp. 101-102.
Ibid., p. 103.
Showalter, Literature of Their Own, p. 120.
Gilbert and Gubar, Madwoman in the Attic, p. 360.
Ibid., p. 359.
Grudin, "Jane," 151.